Lesson Topics

Gender of Nouns: Part I

Notes:

  1. The written lesson is below.
  2. Links to quizzes, tests, etc. are to the left.

A noun is a word used to denote a person, place, thing, or idea.

Person: John, girl, dentist
Place: garden, university, Venezuela
Thing: book, car, tomato
Idea: liberty, despair, intelligence



In Spanish, all nouns are either masculine or feminine.

Masculine Feminine
el chico la chica
boy girl
el jardín la universidad
garden university
el libro la revista
book magazine
el miedo la libertad
fear liberty


The idea that nouns have gender seems perfectly natural when the noun stands for a living creature. This is because in English, living creatures often have different names, depending upon whether they are male or female.



Masculine Feminine
man woman
tiger tigress
aviator aviatrix


The following Spanish nouns all denote living creatures.

el gato
male cat
la gata
female cat
el perro
male dog
la perra
female dog
el chico
boy
la chica
girl
el abuelo
grandfather
la abuela
grandmother


How are all of these masculine nouns alike?

el gato
el perro
el chico
el abuelo

Hint: look at both the beginning and the ending of each line.



How are all of these feminine nouns alike?

la gata
la perra
la chica
la abuela

Hint: look at both the beginning and the ending of each line.



"El" and "la" both mean "the."

el chico (the boy)
la chica (the girl)

el perro (the male dog)
la gata (the female cat)

Note: These two words (el, la) are called "definite articles." You will learn more about them in a later lesson.



What do you notice about the last letter of these nouns?

Masculine Feminine
gato gata
perro perra
chico chica
abuelo abuela

Nouns that end in -o are usually masculine. Nouns that end in -a are usually feminine. Notice the word usually! There are exceptions to these two rules and you will soon be learning them.



One cannot predict the gender of a noun that stands for a non-living thing. Try to predict whether the Spanish words for the following things are masculine or feminine:

Masculine or feminine?

book
house
money
window

One cannot predict the gender of a noun, except in the case of living creatures. Do not try to analyze the nature of the object, looking for some inherent masculinity or femininity. It won't work!



Take a guess. Do you think the Spanish word for "dress" is masculine or feminine? You might expect it to be feminine, since a dress is an article of clothing worn by females.

Actually, the word for "dress" is a masculine word:

el vestido



Take another guess. Do you think the Spanish word for "necktie" is masculine or feminine? You might expect it to be masculine, since a necktie is an article of clothing worn by males.

Actually, the word for "necktie" is a feminine word:

la corbata



When you learn a new noun, you should also learn its definite article (el, la). There are several reasons for this:

  • Because you cannot predict the gender of most nouns.
  • Because not every noun that ends in -o is masculine, and not every noun that ends in -a is feminine.
  • Because many nouns end in letters other than o or a.
  • Because the definite article (el, la) is your clue as to whether a noun is masculine or feminine.


Why do you care whether a noun is masculine or feminine?

Good question! As you shall see in upcoming lessons, Spanish places a great deal more emphasis on gender than does English.

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